Trip Details

Location: Jackson County, Iowa

Weather: Partly cloudy with periods of the sun coming out for a while. High of 74. Low wind.

Time: 10:45 a.m.

Herpers: Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Account by: Matt Ricklefs

Photos by: Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Thought of the Day: It’s been a long time…

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

We started this trip scouting a place near where we usually go for Timber Rattlesnakes. All the information that we had about this place showed that they were gone from here, but we still wanted to see how the habitat was and see what other herps may be there.

There was not much in the way of rocks to turn, but under our first decent rock we found a Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) and a Five-Lined Skink (Eumeces fasciatus).

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

The garter was about 10 inches long and the skink was about 5 inches. That was all we found in the area and we decided we had found out what we needed. We decided to head to our next area.

Our “normal” spot has two main areas. One that we have worked for many years and consider the “main” spot and another area we have been looking at for only the past several years; usually known as the “other” side. It is a bit of a hike to the other side and we have not found Timbers at that location yet. However the area is suitable for them and it is close enough to the known populations that we feel it is a matter of time before we find the right area on the right day. We do however find Black Rat Snakes on the other side and only once in a while on the main area. Are you following all of this… ??

We started on “the other side” and about half way through Jim yelled for me to come over. He had found a good 6 foot Black Rat Snake (Elaphe o. obsoleta) on the crawl.

Photos by Jim Scharosch

It was completely stretched out and except for freezing due to our presence it remained just as Jim came across it. We watched it for a while and got all of our pictures without disturbing the snake. After a while it decided it had enough of us, but still crawled away very methodically and without much apparent concern for our presence. We watched it and got some video and finally let it go on its way. It was pretty cool to watch the path it took, just to see where it decided to go. We walked the rest of the area and went past some rock shelving that we had found black rats at before. However at the time we did not realize it was what we call “the spot” on this side. We walked back, still looking for “the spot” and found our point of reference. We climbed back up to the same area (it had been about 40 minutes since we had passed there last) and low and behold not one, but two Black Rat Snakes were poking their heads out basking.

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

They were both in the 4 foot range based on their head and what we could see of their bodies. After watching them for a little while they did decide they wanted to go back in their crevices so we let them do their thing. That was all we found at “the other side” which was good from the standpoint that it still was a good area for black rats, but bad in that we had not found Timbers here yet. That’s the way it goes.

Now, at the “main area”, there are three locations. The far side which is the furthest from where we usually enter, the middle area and the entrance side. Often we will walk to the far side and work our way back. Since the previous area we had been to put us right on the far side we started there as we usually do. There is one outcrop separate from the hillside that we always check. In years past it has been good, but in the last ten years (since we started Herp Journal) we have only had a few good finds at this area. In fact, it had been over ten years since we had found a Timber there. We still walk the area cautiously however.

Jim and I usually circle around and meet and it was Jim who noticed the bright yellow but dirty from hibernation Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) sitting out sunning itself.

Photos by Jim Scharosch

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

This was a great find, as it showed that the Timbers are still using this area to hibernate and our timing had just been off. We took pictures without moving the snake, however it did decide it didn’t like us so close and decided to actually go defensive. This may seem strange to some people reading this, but Timbers are actually fairly mellow and often just crawl away without coiling or rattling. After a little while it also decided to go back to the crevice it had undoubtedly come from. Another nice bit of information to add to our knowledge base.

The middle area is a spot that had been invaded by small trees and a lot of underbrush. In the past the Timbers, especially a few what we call grey phase ones, would be found in this area. In the past few years since it had overgrown we had seen fewer. At the end of last year we went up here and cleared out the areas so that it would have open areas as it did in the past. This was our first trip up since that effort. Although we did not find anything this day the area looked really good and we will keep an eye on this. That was all we found in the “main” area. It is an odd area. Sometimes things go really well and other time we may find hardly anything. We had found a Timber and in an area that we had not seen them for a long time so that was awesome.

On the way out we checked a tin spot. We found another garter snake.

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

We also found a handful of Ringneck Snakes (Diadophis punctatus) under another tin.

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

we had and Jim found a nice Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) about 28 inches long.

Photo by Jim Scharosch

I turned a piece of tin just long enough to see the tail end of a small milk going down a hole before heading over to take pictures of the milk Jim had. On the way back I turned the same piece of tin and guess who was out…I did get some pics of the little 7 inch Milk Snake before we left.

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

That’s it for the day. A good day overall and a day full of unexpected surprises and as always a lot of happy herpin’

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